By Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, Dave Cockrum, Joe Staton, George Tuska, Don Heck & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-8805-6 (HB)
The Avengers have always proved that putting all one’s star eggs in a single basket pays off big-time: even when all Marvel’s classic all-stars such as Thor, Captain America and Iron Man are absent, it merely allows the team’s lesser lights to shine more brightly.
Of course, all the founding stars were regularly featured due to the rotating, open door policy which means that every issue includes somebody’s fave-rave – and the boldly grand-scale impressive stories and artwork are no hindrance either.
This monumental tome (available in hardback and digital editions) collects the team’s world-saving and universe-preserving from issues #129-135 of their monthly comic book, plus Giant-Size Avengers #2-4 – spanning November 1974 through June 1975 – and sees scripter Steve Englehart explore the outer limits of Marvel history and cosmic geography as he begins an epic revelation of universal structure, the beginnings of Marvel time and the formative years of some of the most intriguing characters in comicsâ€¦
Preceded by his reminiscent commentaries and secrets of his cognitive process in a fulsome Introduction, the drama opens with issue #129’s ‘Bid Tomorrow Goodbye!’ (illustrated by Sal Buscema & Joe Staton) as Kang the Conqueror appears, determined to possess the legendary female figure he calls the Celestial Madonna.
Apparently, this anonymous creature will birth the saviour of the universe, and since no records survive disclosing which of the three women in Avengers Mansion at that crucial moment (mutant sorcery student Scarlet Witc, martial artist Mantis and aged witch Agatha Harkness) she actually is, the time-reaver is resolved to abduct all three and forcibly make himself the inevitable father of the childâ€¦
This time, not even the assembled Avengers can stop him and, after crushing and enslaving them, Kang makes off with his hostages, leaving only the swiftly declining Swordsman free to contest himâ€¦
The tale continues into Giant-Size Avengers #2 with ‘A Blast from the Past!’ (rendered by Dave Cockrum) as reluctant returnee Hawkeye rushes to the team’s rescue, reuniting with old adversary/mentor Swordsman and enigmatic entity Rama-Tut – who eventually reveals himself as Kang’s reformed future selfâ€¦
Against all odds, the merely mortal heroes manage to free the enslaved Avengers and rout the unrepentant Kang – but only at the cost of Swordsman’s lifeâ€¦
Avengers #130 poses ‘The Reality Problem!’ (Sal B & Staton) depicting the heartbroken and much-chastened Mantis joining the team in Vietnam to investigate her mysteriously clouded past, only to be drawn into pointless combat with Communist exiles and former Avenger foes Titanium Man, Radioactive Man and Crimson Dynamo thanks to the devious manipulations of petty sneak thief The Slasherâ€¦
Brief but heated battle concluded, the origin trail then leads to ‘A Quiet Half-hour in Saigon!’ during which the American Adventurers are again attacked by Kang who traps them in Limbo and unleashes a macabre Legion of the Unliving – comprising enslaved dead heroes plucked from the corridors of time – against themâ€¦
With yet another chronal villain Immortus added to the mix, ‘Kang War II’ sees temporarily resurrected heroes and villains Wonder Man, 1940’s android Human Torch, the Monster of Frankenstein, martial arts assassin Midnight, the actually ghostly Flying Dutchman and Baron Zemo decimate the Avengers and the trauma and tragedy are further exacerbated as Mantis keeps seeing the spectre of her deceased loverâ€¦
This absorbing thriller by Englehart, Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema & Staton segues inexorably into Giant-Size Avengers #3’s ‘â€¦What Time Hath Put Asunder!’ Illustrated by Cockrum & Joe Giella, it shows Earth’s Mightiest Heroes pulling victory from the ashes of defeat and receiving a unique gift from one of the assembled Masters of Timeâ€¦
Avengers #133 travels to ‘Yesterday and Beyondâ€¦’ (by Englehart, Sal B & Staton) as the shocked heroes accompany Mantis to the beginnings of recorded Galactic history and the unravelling of her true past, whilst Vision is separately dispatched to glimpse his own obscure and complex origins; a double quest which encompasses both the Kree and Skrull empires, the previously defeated Star-Stalker, the long-deceased Priests of Pama, Thanos and the telepathic Titan dubbed Moondragon, as well as a goodly portion of classic superhero history in ‘The Times That Bind!’ before #135 reveals that ‘The Torch is Passed!’ (limned by George Tuska & Frank Chiaramonte), before bringing all the disparate elements together in Giant-Size Avengers #4.
‘â€¦Let All Men Bring Together’ (art by Don Heck & John Tartaglione) brought a satisfactory conclusion to the long-standing and pitfall-plagued romance between the Scarlet Witch and Vision and detailed another, far more cosmic union with a brace of weddings and the ultimate ascension of the Celestial Madonna – even though demonic extra-dimensional despot Dormammu attempts to spoil the celebrationsâ€¦
Supplementing the circumstances above described, this collection also offers contemporary features from Marvel’s FOOM magazine #12 which spotlighted the romance and weddings with a vision cover by John Buscema & P. Craig Russell, back cover image by Paty (Cockrum) & Al Milgrom; an overview of the awesome android in ‘Visions’ and ‘Vision, This is Your Life!’ and David Anthony Kraft’s ‘The Scarlet Witch: Meditations on a Ms.’ – all including early art contributions from John Byrne, Paty, Dave Wenzel and an extended family pin-up.
Also on view are a Charley Parker spoof strip starring ‘The Visage’, extended interviews ‘Steve Englehart Speaks!: Journey to the center of a Vision’ and ‘Roy Thomas Speaks!: Journey to the center of a Vision’, plus the cover to all-reprint Giant-Size Avengers #5, house ads, original cover art by Dave Cockrum and interior pages by Sal Buscema & Staton and Tuska & Chiaramonte as well a gallery of covers from previous collections dedicated to the Celestial Madonnaâ€¦
Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart were at the forefront of Marvel’s second generation of story-makers, brilliantly building on and consolidating the compelling creation of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Steve Ditko: spearheading and constructing a logical, fully functioning wonder-machine of places and events that so many others were inspired by and could add to. Between them they also showed how much more graphic narratives could become and these terrific tales are perfect examples of superhero sagas done just right.
Don’t trust my opinions; check out the wonderment for yourselvesâ€¦
Â© 1974, 1975 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.